There’s a new television series, coming from Britain to the U.S., courtesy of BBC America. It’s called “Ripper Street” and we watched the pilot last night.
British TV has a reputation for creating series (well, some anyway) that don’t talk down to the audience. They have a reputation for high-quality productions. They have a reputation of fine actors playing complicated characters.
This show is all of those things.
What immediately makes this show unique is that it is set in London circa 1889, in the months immediately after Jack the Ripper’s killing spree. The policemen, the criminals, and the populace all have those gruesome crimes fresh in mind.
Matthew McFadyen plays Detective Reid, who was involved with the Ripper case. He has a dark backstory that we’re only given a glimpse of, through his uneasy relationship with his wife, to the burns and scars that cover the left side of his chest and back. We’re shown these things, but given no information on them, tantalizing us.
Assisting Detective Reid with his cases are his hard-as-nails sergeant and an American doctor, both of whom are also given very complex characterizations in this first episode.
But what I liked most about it was the dialogue. It’s rare that a period drama will strive for anything other than a modern-sounding dialogue. The last show I remember doing this at all was the unfortunately short-lived series, “Kings,” which frequently used a nearly Shakespearean style of dialogue that both enhanced the power of the action and gave us insight into the grandiose egos of the characters.
In “Ripper Street,” the dialogue of the educated characters has a more convoluted syntax–typical of the period–while the more street-savvy characters use the slang of the day, but never so much that you are lost. When Sergeant Drake talks of “a peeper’s dry plate,” we’ve been given enough information to know what he means, or will be shown what he means shortly.
With the loss of other well-written shows, I’m excited to have another to look forward to, even if there are only 8 shows in the first season…